When The Anchor asked me to write this article about my experience of the priesthood, I was at a loss about what to write. After all, as I write this, I have been a priest for less than a year, during which I have mostly done exactly what I did for the past 20 years of my life: study.
The most time I have spent in a parish since I entered seminary is a couple months, and so I haven’t had so many of those rewarding experiences that priest so often reflect upon. I have never witnessed a marriage; though I carry the oil of the sick everywhere, only once have I used it; I have a mere three baptisms under my belt, and not even one confirmation. For me, the priesthood is still a daily surprise, so what aspect of the priesthood can I speak about?
After much thought I realized that although I have not yet experienced many of the things people associate with the high points of the priesthood, I have experienced its heart — at Mass and in the confessional — and with those people I have met along the way, I have experiences the friendship of Christ.
A priest offers sacrifice for the sins of the people interceding for them with the Father as Jesus does for us on the cross. Ministerial priests are “other Christs,” who stand in for Jesus, offering the sacrifice that Christ offers. More than just offering sacrifices, however, they also show the faithful why and what Jesus offers by preaching the good news of God’s desire for friendship with man.
We priests are ordained to show people the love of Christ, which we do when we celebrate Mass, showing the people the symbol of Jesus’ love for us, his Body and Blood; when we hear confessions speaking Jesus’ words, “My friend go and sin no more”; when celebrating the other sacraments, demonstrating that he is with us always; and in the friendships we develop with those whose souls entrusted to us.
St. Aelred of Riveaux tells us true friendship is the perfection of love (caritas). A friend is one who wants and does what is truly good for the other, no matter the personal sacrifice involved. Thus, Jesus on the cross is the model of true friendship — a friendship that started with getting to know, being and living with humanity, but that culminates with the gift of his life for his friends, for all of us, on Calvary.
As a priest I have experienced Jesus’ friendship so often offering the Eucharist and hearing confessions. The immensity of the gift being offered by our friend Jesus for us on the cross each time I celebrate the holy Mass always amazes me as I think about what my hands are touching and my tongue is speaking as I say Jesus’ words: “This is my Body, my Blood.” This sacramental friendship in turn manifests itself in our everyday life.
One of the most rewarding parts of being a priest is offering the sacraments for the people and then being with them as they live the new life they have received. Sitting with people around their kitchen tables talking about the faith as it affects their lives is one of the most life-giving experiences of my priesthood thus far. For so many faith can seem dead, a system of rules and factoids that are foreign to our experience of reality.
A fundamental part of what it means to be another Christ as a priest is to show people that the offer of friendship with God given by our faith and in the sacraments is a living reality. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat late into the night talking with the faithful, as Jesus talked to his disciples, explaining to them what God is doing in their lives. This is such a privilege for a priest, especially when people open their hearts to God’s voice and his actions in their lives.
Of course, true friendship is not always easy, as Jesus’ friendship with humanity demonstrates. Being with people during their joys and when they are filled with enthusiasm for their faith is simple, but friendship also means calling them to task when they stray and being with them in those hard times when faith is not easy. In all the difficult aspects of friendship, however, helping people to see that what is being asked of them is being asked out of love is essential.
I remember once sitting with a dying man and his wife, both deeply in love with each other, and marveling at the strength of their faith while sharing in the profound sorrow of their impending separation. As a priest, another Christ, my friendship with them didn’t mean dismissing the reality of the sorrow, but showing them that Jesus weeps with them. It meant showing them the promises of the friendship Jesus offers, a promise that I make present to strengthen them when I offer the Mass.
The friendships I have developed as a priest with the faithful, but also with those who are faithfully searching for God, have been an inspiration to my priesthood thus far, and I look forward to many more life long friendships in Christ with those whom I am sent to serve over the course of my life as a priest. I carry these friendships with me daily.
Father Ron P. Floyd, ordained in 2008, is parochial vicar at St. Patrick’s Parish in Wareham.